Turn The McConnell Lesson Into Something Bigger

Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Yesterday, in a packed Chattanooga courtroom, the Hon. Harry S. Mattice, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee, handed down penalties in the horse abuse case involving Jackie McConnell - the Hall of Fame trainer of Tennessee walking horses, who in 2011 was captured on tape by an HSUS undercover investigator intentionally injuring the animals under his charge in order to get them to step higher and win ribbons at horse shows.

McConnell is now a convicted federal felon. The judge fined him $75,000 and sentenced him to three years supervised probation—specifically requiring him to report “any involvement with horses” to his probation officer—and to 300 hours of community service to be performed for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s the stiffest sentence ever handed down under the Horse Protection Act.

Like many, I would have liked to have seen McConnell do time in prison for the horrible things he did to horses–not just the ones that our investigator filmed him abusing, but all of the hapless creatures who were unlucky enough to fall under this man’s control. McConnell still faces 15 charges of violating Tennessee’s cruelty to animals statute in a pending case, and his guilty plea in federal court virtually guarantees the charges will stick. The threat of jail time still looms for McConnell in the state’s case.

But justice was done yesterday–and a signal was sent to every lawbreaker in the world of Tennessee walking horse shows that you don’t get away with abusing animals any longer. There’s no immunity for those who unlawfully torture horses to win ribbons–whether they’re the owners or the trainers. U.S. Attorney Bill Killian and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Neff made it abundantly clear that when evidence of these crimes is reported, offenders will be prosecuted.

As the United States argued in court yesterday, there’s a defect in the underlying law—the Horse Protection Act, which has not been upgraded since 1976—that allowed Jackie McConnell to maintain some measure of freedom in spite of the crimes he committed. Last week, we took a big step toward correcting it by working with humane-minded lawmakers to introduce legislation to expand the range of prohibited acts related to soring and to impose meaningful penalties for violations of the law.

This whole controversy is about more than Jackie McConnell. He is one trainer among dozens who have operated in a professional subculture that not only tolerates soring, but believes it’s essential to win.

Punishing McConnell is needed in order to see justice served. But if we stopped there, we’d be missing the point. Just as we’d be missing the larger point if we only wished to see Michael Vick punished, understanding that he was one of tens of thousands of people involved in dogfighting.

Just as The HSUS moved on from the Vick case and relentlessly pursued a comprehensive, multi-faceted attack on dogfighting, that’s what we need with soring.

The pitiful epilogue to Jackie McConnell’s training career ended yesterday, with his sentencing in Federal Court. Now, it is up to us to take the lessons of the McConnell investigation and arrest and translate it into something bigger. Our singular goal is to clean up the show world of Tennessee walking horse competitions, restore integrity to the sport, and put an end to all soring.

Soring is an archaic, barbaric, unnecessary practice. It’s also a crime, and in this case, the law has spoken. Other scofflaw trainers disregard this message at their peril, but also at the peril of their entire industry. The industry should be working with us to root out this corruption. 

Wayne Pascellle
President of the Humane Society of the United States 


True Revenue Situation

My honorable and respected friend Roy Exum tells us again today, “It has been 12 years since the county fathers have approved a tax increase ... .” I’ll take his word for that, but want some more information. “No tax increase for 12 years” is just the chorus; I want to hear the rest of the song, the specific verses that really tell the tale. The fact is, although Roy’s bare ... (click for more)

Send Your Opinions To Chattanoogan.com

We welcome your opinions at Chattanoogan.com. Email to  news@chattanoogan.com . We require your real first and last name and contact information. There is no word limit, but if your article is too long you may lose your reader. Please focus more on issues than personal attacks. (click for more)

Judge Walter Williams May Go Back On The Bench As Administrative Hearing Officer

One of the city's most colorful judges may go back on the bench. The City Council on Tuesday is set to vote on the nomination of former City Court Judge Walter Williams as administrative hearing officer - a new city position. The law license of the former judge was transferred to disability inactive status in August of 2015 after he suffered a stroke early in the year.  ... (click for more)

Body Believed To Be That Of McCallie Student Jackson Standefer Recovered In Colorado River

A body believed to be that of a McCallie School student who was swept away in a creek in the Grand Canyon was recovered on Friday. The Grand Canyon Regional Communications Center said it was notified by a commercial river trip that they located a body on the Colorado River at River Mile 152. Park rangers responded and recovered the body, which was transported to the rim ... (click for more)

Morgan, Smith, Parrott Pace Lady Pounders Past Bearettes 6-0

Maybe Central softball coach LeeAnne Shurette won’t nag her Lady Pounders so much in the coming days. Central collected eight hits, including two-run singles by Tatum Morgan and Janara Smith, on Friday to back Brooke Parrott’s three-hitter and the Lady Pounders defeated Bradley Central 6-0 in the East Hamilton tournament at The Summit. “Shurette has been nagging, maybe ... (click for more)

McCallie Earns 3-1 Soccer Win Over Rival Baylor

When his team needed him the most, McCallie senior Drew Viscomi did what he does best. Two minutes after the Blue Tornado allowed an equalizer to rival Baylor in the Division II Mid-East Region soccer match on the Red Raiders’ home field, Viscomi’s strike put his team back on top. Five minutes later, the All-American and school single-season scoring leader ... (click for more)